Saturday, June 09, 2007

Old folks, old memories

The past few weeks I have been thinking about stories. Not just any stories, but stories that relate God's grace and mercy. I was purposefully attempting to remember stories that illustrated "the gospel". Stories that would illustrate the good news of Jesus even if Jesus and the "plan of salvation" were never mentioned in the telling.

I remembered one that fulfilled all the requirements I had set in my head for these stories.
  • The story had to be a first hand account. That would limit me to people I knew or could communicate with personally.
  • If the story could be put on film and was to have no audio tract, the visual pictures would still scream of Jesus and grace.
  • The story had to involve "ordinary", "every day", "every-man" people. Not paid or trained church "professionals".
I communicated with a person directly involved in this story of grace. She is still alive and doing very well at 86. As a matter of fact, she is still writing stories of God's grace and mercy by the life she lives. Her energy and passion for serving people are amazing, but you cannot meet her yet. Monday she told me the story. For over one hour she told me stories, showed me pictures, read me scripture, newspaper articles, artifacts from a life and story that smells of "the gospel" and God's grace. In the telling she had to mention people I have known my whole life. Some have died, others have moved from the area, others are living life and Jesus daily, a few have moved into a retirement community in Pittsboro, N.C.
The story teller was quite blunt, she asked, "What are you doing on Wednesday?"
I had only one reply..."I have an open day on Wednesday."
I then called my mother Joyce, she knows the story and was involved in many ways.
"Mom, is your calendar open on Wednesday?"
"Yes", was her simple reply.
"Will you go with me and the story teller to the Pittsboro Christian Village to visit Mel Pierce?", I asked.
"Yes, son, you need to see Mel."

It was set. I would drive my 76 year old mother, the 86 year old story teller and her 93 year old house guest to Pittsboro to visit Mel Pierce and other christian old folks.

Oh yeah, you guys don't know Mel Pierce. Mel was a teacher. She was my high school chorus teacher and director of a touring choir I was part of in those years. She was also a wife to Wilber and mother to Scott, Polly and Penny. The entire family attended the church I did as a young man. They always wore the most beautiful hats to church each week. Mel, Polly and Penny wore the hats, not Wilber and Scott. Mel and Wilber sang duets on a regular basis. They could sing well. They sang "old school" church songs. I can still see them in my mind singing together.
Sometimes, Scott and Penny would join them and the duet would become a quartet. Wilber is in heaven now. Mel and my mother are dear friends of forty years. The story teller is also close to Mel.

Mel was and is a classic southern lady, even though she grew up around Chicago, Il. She enjoys beautiful things, good books and good friends, she also loves Jesus very much. She had a profound impact on my life as a young man. So did the story teller, and my mother, and my father and the list becomes endless.

We left Durham around 9am last Wednesday morning headed for Pittsboro. My mother, the story teller and Louise. The ride was fun, even though my mother and the story teller, we will refer to her as "ST" from here on out, disagreed on how we should drive to Pittsboro. I tried to drive "my" way...that lasted about 30 seconds.

Pittsboro Christian Village is a unique place. They have a few private homes, probably a dozen or so apartments and than a top notch care facility. Many older believers have spent their last years here with a good staff and excellent care. ST and my mother lead the way from room to room; speaking to each resident with love and genuine interest. You could tell they come often as staff and residents were familiar with the both of them. They were also happy to see me, a few were happy to see anyone. Many of the names and faces were people from my childhood. My mother and I made a visit or two to total strangers. I am always amazed how a five minute visit and a few words can seem to bring great joy to seniors.

Mother moved me on to Mel's room. Mel was there, sitting in her chair. She had the same aire of quality and dignity I had always known, just bent a wee-bit more. She greeted me with laughs and many hugs. We had a wonderful conversation for almost an hour. She cannot walk at this time without assistance, so a wheelchair is her vehicle up and down the halls. She loves the village and her life as it is. I heard no discouragement, no pity for herself. She was filled with thankfulness and praise for God and Jesus. It was good to spend time with her and I hope and pray God's grace and mercy will follow her up and down the halls as she wheels around.

I then went to visit Minnie Chandler. She is in her nineties and still painting beautiful pictures regularly. She and her husband Russell attended my 1st birthday party, so I have known Minnie my whole life. She and Russell were "old" when I was little, or it seemed that way to me.

I was invited to eat lunch in the dining hall. The meals are served family style at tables of five or six folks each. I spent lunch with five wonderful ladies, including a retired missionary/nurse who served in the Congo, Africa. the conversation was good and the food was..O.K.

After lunch many went to quarters for after noon naps. Mel P, Minnie C, ST, my mother, the 93 year old house guest and about six or seven other ladies went to the sitting room. They began to share stories of my childhood. They spoke of the communities of faith from my childhood, the pastors and leaders, camps and VBSes and songs. They wanted to sing!
we did, songs of the faith from the past. Songs with great theological depth and songs with shallow christian sentiment, but all, full of faith and trust and assurance that life does not end on this planet. For ALL of them, life today and tomorrow are dependent on a relationship with a person. A person that is real , alive and living with and in them. Dare I say it, that person is Jesus Christ! This group of ladies were an example to me of lives lived with Christ.

I Tim 4:12

"Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."

For about an hour we sat and chatted and sang. There were laughs, a few tears and great faith. One by one, they walked, rolled and hobbled away. I rolled Mel back to her room and helped her get back into her chair. I was humbled!! I experienced much joy, much faith, much grace, much of Jesus while there.

My three passengers and myself returned to the Triangle via Chapel Hill and ended the day at ST's home. A pot of coffee was brewed and she began to tell the story again. This time I had my laptop, a good microphone and Audacity. I recorded the story for over one hour.I returned to the story tellers home again on Friday and recorded for over two hours. I now have over three hours of raw audio of a BIG story of God's grace, God's mercy and God's people. I also have the memories of a day at a Christian seniors village. I am attempting to edit the recordings, I am also attempting to be changed by my day with a bunch of old people and some old memories.


  1. I am moved just reading your story.

  2. Well, now that I have the raw audio i must learn to use the software to edit the tract to about 60 mins. From there, my hope is to turn ot into a podcast. I am starting to travel with a laptop to capture more stories of grace.

  3. Larry8:40 AM

    This was great Jimmy! I used to enjoy listening to my mother talk about what life was like growing up during the Depression and how those experiences shaped their values for a lifetime. Mama never threw anything away, not even the rubber bands that came with the morning paper.

    I also remember tent revivals and church homecomings where everyone would bring something to eat and we'd spend the day eating and singing and enjoying fellowship with other believers. That's also when people would return to church, whether they'd moved away or moved membership.

    I remember the first time a charismatic (holy-roller) came to our Baptist church. The men sat on the right hand side of the church; the women on the left, and visitors in the center. Well, this male visitor knew enough to sit with the men, but as the preacher began preaching, the visitor would shout out "Amen" in agreement with the pastor. Everyone turned and stared at the man, because this wasn't something we were used to in church. It seemed to distract from the message that God had sent us that week. Well, the man continued to shout "Amen!" "Praise God!", and eventually he started speaking in tongues - which totally freaked out us kids and most of the adults. Then he got up and started dancing in the aisle. Well, the preacher didn't know what to do. He stopped preaching. But a deacon knew how to return the service to some semblance of order. He got up from his pew, walked over to the visitor and told him it was time for him to leave. The visitor sat down, but he was out the door as soon as the service was over. I remember my dad, also a deacon, commenting over lunch that day that the visitor acted like a 'damn fool'. That's the only curse word I ever heard my father use. I was more concerned about the 'fool' part because we'd all heard the scripture about how terrible it is for the person who calls someone a fool.

    Thank you for bringing back memories. It's not always the profound events that we miss - it's the routine things we used to take for granted that we remember most fondly.